WASHINGTON - While the job market clearly remains depressed, three reports yesterday hinted that a turnaround might not be too distant.
To be sure, the announcements - from the government on unemployment-insurance claims, the Conference Board on help-wanted ads, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on hiring plans - all contained cautions. Moreover, the government is to report today the May unemployment figures, and economists forecast it will say about 525,000 jobs were lost last month.
But the reports yesterday showed some progress.
Unemployment insurance. The Labor Department said the number of people receiving jobless benefits fell - albeit slightly - for the first time in 20 weeks, while the tally of new jobless claims also dipped.
Both drops were small, and the figures remain significantly above the levels associated with a healthy economy. The job market likely will remain weak well into next year, according to estimates from government and private economists.
The tally of first-time claims for jobless benefits declined in the week ended May 30 to a seasonally adjusted 621,000 from the previous week's revised 625,000, nearly matching analysts' expectations. A year ago, new claims were at 370,000.
The total jobless-benefit rolls - that is, people receiving unemployment insurance - fell 15,000 to 6.7 million, the first drop since early January. Continuing claims had set records every week since the week ended Jan. 24. The continuing-claims data are for the week that ended May 23. A year ago, continuing claims were at 3.1 million.
The four-week average of new claims, which smooths out weekly fluctuations, rose 4,000, to 631,250.
Job ads. Online job advertisements rose 250,000 in May, the largest monthly increase since October 2006.
The Conference Board report said there were about 3.36 million online job ads last month compared with about 3.11 million in April. A year ago, there were 3.79 million online ads.
The May gain was the first monthly increase since a rise of 21,000 in October 2008.
Wal-Mart. The largest U.S. retailer said it planned to hire 22,000 people this year to staff about 150 new or expanded stores.
Those jobs include plenty of low-paid cashiers and stock clerks, but the world's largest retailer also will add store managers, pharmacists, and personnel workers.
The increases in stores and workers, though, are less than in 2008. It opened 191 stores and created 33,800 jobs last year.